Written by: Aretha Chinnaphongse, Jillian Colombo, Misaki Tan, A J Jennevieve
Singapore — With Polling Day around the corner, political parties have been working hard to reach out to as many voters as possible. Numerous new faces have been introduced and many have been in the limelight. They have been unfazed by their lack of experience and seem to be truly committed to bettering the nation in their own ways. Here’s our list of 10 new candidates this year who have impressed us thus far.
PSP’s Choo Shaun Ming (23)
Mr Choo Shaun Ming is the youngest candidate from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), as well as the youngest candidate in the 2020 General Election. He is turning 23 this year. What do we remember ourselves doing back when we were 23? Or what do we think we will be doing at 23? Few of us will be brave or passionate enough about the country’s future to take a step into politics so early on.
Mr Choo is a law undergraduate at the National University of Singapore but is not letting his youth stop him. He says that it is not uncommon in other countries to see young people step up to enter politics. Although the youngest, Mr Choo has been one of the most composed and articulate among the PSP members when taking questions from the press and the public.
Many would peg his eager smile and cheerfulness to naivety and inexperience, but Mr Choo gives hope that Singapore’s youths are not just a lot of politically apathetic residents of a country. Furthermore, many PSP members have vouched for his maturity and have given sterling comments about having him as a part of PSP.
“Age is just a number”, is a common remark from people who are still active and passionate in their sunset years. However, this applies to the youths, too. Mr Choo is making good on that adage by stepping forward to set an example for youths in Singapore, and to voice concerns that are more relatable to the younger generation of Singaporeans.
WP’s Raeesah Khan (26)
Ms Raeesah Khan has gained traction for the two police reports made against her for alleged comments on race made in 2018. What earned her spot on this list, however, is her reaction to all the attention and police investigations. She not only took full accountability and responsibility for the comments but also publicly apologised for them, saying that she regretted making them. Backed by Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh, who mentioned that he will not be pulling her out of the elections, she continues to keep her head high as she heads for “Hammer Show” rallies and on-the-ground campaign walkabouts. Her apology has even been compared to and deemed more sincere than that of dropped PAP candidate Ivan Lim.
Also, before the police reports, Ms Khan had an impressive resume of having been an activist since 17. She has been especially passionate about women’s rights and empowerment, founding the Reyna Movement to engage in upskilling programmes and community engagement for women and children in Singapore and Johor.
With many netizens backing her, such as number one Singapore-trending hashtag on Twitter #iStandwithRaeesah and supportive comments on Facebook, Ms Raeesah’s classy, calm and genuine response and fervour to keep going in this election despite the allegations that even PSP leader Tan Cheng Bock called out as “gutter politics” earned her a spot as one of our top candidates in 2020.
PSP’s Terrence Soon (30)
At only 30 years of age, Mr Terrence Soon is one of the younger members in PSP and in this General Election. Praised by Secretary-General Tan Cheng Bock as “courageous”, Mr Soon once mentioned in a MeetPSP Webinar that “politics is not a job, it’s a calling!” By taking the road less travelled, the Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot started his own business in university and pursued entrepreneurship in his early twenties.
Being a first officer for SIA and joining politics has not been easy for Mr Soon, who found himself scurrying to change into his PSP uniform after stepping off the plane. But what impressed us the most was that he owed it all to his wife’s support. Quoted from Mr Soon: “If I have my wife’s support, I can do it. If my wife doesn’t support, I will never run.”
Similarly, despite going against the PAP in its stronghold of Tanjong Pagar GRC, Mr Soon refuses to use the word “fear”, and although there are doubts among some members of the public about younger people joining politics, he prides himself of his age and promises to represent his generation to make a difference in Singapore.
RDU’s Liyana Dhamirah (33)
Another new candidate who has caught the public eye would be Ms Liyana Dhamirah. Unlike the rest of the newly-unveiled candidates, her story is not a conventional one. Ms Liyana has lived a life of struggle. She got pregnant at 16, was cheated on repeatedly by her then-husband and was eventually rendered homeless and forced to live in a tent by Sembawang Beach and West Coast Park. Anyone else would have had their spirit broken by such an ordeal — but not Ms Liyana.
Today, she is a successful entrepreneur and a committed volunteer at a charity for less-privileged children and youths — a commendable feat for someone who came from such humble origins. Leading up to the elections, Ms Liyana has demonstrated tremendous strength and passion for her ideals.
“I want to make sure that no one in Singapore will have to go through what I went through,” she said in the Constituency Broadcasts. Isn’t that what we want in a leader? Someone who understands what it feels to hit rock bottom and yet somehow mustered the emotional grit and willpower to pull herself out of it. Someone who is compassionate enough to ensure no one else should go through what she did. Most importantly, someone who sees a brighter future, and is not afraid to fight for it.
Ms Liyana may not have as decorated a background as the rest of the candidates but this in no way makes her any less capable. Her innate qualities and ability to work hard make her just as impressive a candidate as everyone else on this list.
WP’s Jamus Jerome Lim Chee Wui (44)
Following Mr Jamus Lim’s impressive performance in the first televised debate of these elections, it’s easy to see how he quickly became a fan favorite. He went to Catholic High Primary, Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College before furthering his studies at the University of Southern Queensland and graduating with an honours degree in economics. He has held several noteworthy positions such as working as a senior economist at the World Bank, a lead economist at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as well as on policy issues at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS). Even more impressively, he holds three master’s degrees and a postgraduate fellowship.
So why is Mr Lim so well-liked? Apart from his superior oratorical skills, he has enraptured millennials with his well-thought-out explanations. During the debate, he presented himself as a calm, eloquent speaker who simply wanted to improve the lives of the common man. He is not afraid to question the norm. He wants to balance the government out. When he famously said, “What we’re trying to deny the PAP is not a mandate. What we’re trying to deny them is a blank cheque”, he turned heads everywhere for his relatable sentiments. He aspires to change the government without upending it entirely.
Mr Lim may be new to politics but he’s definitely getting our vote.
PAP’s Rachel Ong (47)
Ms Rachel Ong, best known for her role as chief executive of local enterprise ROHEI, a consulting firm, also founded Trybe, a charity that runs the Singapore Boys’ Hostel, the Community Rehabilitation Centre for first-time drug abusers, and Trybe Aftercare.
What is impressive about Trybe is that it is a social service agency that specialises in working with youths who face adversities. Some of the things that stood out from Trybe is its “Reintegration” programme that seeks to support high-risk youths aged 13-21 to regain their footing in society. Her emphasis on youth support as seen from quote, “In order for us to help youths succeed, we first must learn to listen, to see, to hear, to understand and to care for the needs of the youth” and “we are empowered to continue to challenge them and support them — we have earned the right and the trust (of) them” is indeed noteworthy.
Her charitable efforts to help the marginalised and often overlooked struggles of some of these youths are commendable. Also, her contribution to running and founding charities thus caught our attention and earned her a spot on this list.
PSP’s Kumaran Pillai (49)
Mr Kumaran Pillai is on this list because of how he has gone the extra mile to get to know the residents in Kebun Baru SMC. He has done his part by not only heading down to Mayflower Market and Food Centre a number of times to meet the residents but has even gone the extra mile to hold mobile Meet-The-People sessions. These sessions were where he really managed to delve into specific issues that residents have been facing, to ensure a much more “localised” plan for Kebun Baru can be developed should he win the constituency. For instance, as it is an area that has a large proportion of elderly residents, he has stated explicitly that the top priority would be in addressing the accessibility issues of these residents.
Going beyond the localised plans, Mr Kumaran is also well versed and clear in how he has plans on a national level, especially helping local SMEs. He firmly believes that SMEs are vital to Singapore’s economy and that more should be done to support these businesses.
PSP’s Kala Manickam (52)
Ms Kala Manickam was introduced to the public through the webinar sessions held by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), during which PSP members answered questions from participants in the webinars.
She immediately stood out as being charismatic and likeable, with a way of speaking that made her very down-to-earth.
Ms Kala was one of the first batches of females who went through integrated training with the male officer cadets in the Officer Cadet School in the Singapore Armed Forces. She is currently an adult educator who runs her own Learning and Development Education.
During the webinar where Ms Manickam was part of the PSP panel that took questions from the public, she responded to questions in an organised yet humorous manner. An example would be when she was asked if an apology should be demanded from the government for what happened in the foreign worker dormitories. Later, she jokingly said that maybe “demand” was not the right word.
She has also previously said that Singaporeans have nothing to lose should they elect PSP members into Parliament and even quipped: “Nothing to lose what, anyway, you’ve lasted 55 years with all the pain and struggles.”
In general, Ms Kala has given the impression that she is well connected to the general sentiments of the ground, and has a knack for keeping the attention of people in the way she speaks.
WP’s Abdul Shariff bin Aboo Kassim (54)
Mettle and gumption. Those were the words that came to mind when Mr Abdul Shariff bin Aboo Kassim was introduced as a candidate for the Workers’ Party. He has under his belt, a vast array of experience in various sectors and jobs.
Mr Abdul Shariff disrupted his studies at Secondary 4 and worked in a factory. After National Service, he worked as a market shop assistant, security guard, dispatch rider, and undertaker. On top of that, he enrolled in Ngee Ann Polytechnic as a mature student and was able to secure engineering jobs thereafter. To pay for his university education, Mr Abdul Shariff worked as a NightRider bus driver and relief taxi driver.
Talk about a range of experience!
In addition to all the sacrifices he made in his younger days, Mr Abdul Shariff had to quit his job as a researcher at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) to contest in the elections due to RIMA’s policy of non-partisanship. However, he called this a “small sacrifice”.
Not only does he show in his experience the kind of resilience he has, the fact that he resigned from his job as a researcher to contest in the elections probably serves as a good indicator of the dedication he will have if elected into Parliament.
He said: “When you believe you have succeeded purely on individual merit, you may hold the view that those who are not successful have only themselves to blame.” In this sentence, he captured the essence of what Singapore is slowly morphing into, a meritocratic yet elitist and individualistic society.
The difference and the unique outlook on life which his experiences have surely given him makes him someone who, if elected, would breathe fresh air into Parliament.
PSP’s Leong Mun Wai (60)
Mr Leong Mun Wai’s portfolio is impressive, having been a PSC scholar, Managing Director of OCBC Securities, Director of Merrill Lynch HK and Investment Officer of GIC. While new to politics, Mr Leong has proven to be worthy of his position as Assistant Secretary-General of the party.
Mr Leong has earned his spot in this list because of the way he conducts himself on social media. He does not shy away from controversial topics or feel afraid to share his thoughts on various issues, and he does so in a civilised manner. For instance, this was seen during the saga over the PAP’s Mr Ivan Lim. Instead of bashing Mr Lim or the PAP after Mr Lim withdrew his candidacy, Mr Leong encouraged the public to not pursue the matter further. He wrote: “However, after the person involved has withdrawn his candidacy (not necessarily an admission of guilt) we should not pursue the matter. By getting too personal, it will discourage people from coming forward to serve the public in the future.”
This civility has been consistent in all of Mr Leong’s posts and is visible during interviews as well. Another plus point is that Mr Leong has made clear, repeatedly and explicitly, what plans both he and his party will undertake should they gain positions in Parliament. Ultimately, he presents himself as a consistently straightforward and committed individual. /TISG